British National Identity


PS: The Lion and The Unicorn is available at


http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/O/OrwellGeorge/essay/lionunicorn.html


Orwell is a committed socialist. He went to Spain at the end of 1936, to write newspaper articles on the Spanish Civil War. The conflict in Spain was between the communist, socialist Republic, and General Franco’s Fascist military rebellion. He was astonished by the atmosphere in Spain: class distinctions did not exist there and everyone was equal. He joined in the struggle by enlisting in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación de Marxista), which was associated with the British Labour Party. For the first time in his life socialism seemed a reality. The Lion and The Unicorn was written by him in 1941 in the period of WWII. He wrote to the British public: “And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time … Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.” He wrote this to arouse national unity to fight against the army in the war. Chris Waters is a professor of Modern European History. His research area is “The Rise and Fall of the Therapeutic Ideal in Twentieth-Century Britain.” Dark Strangers written by Waters, is about discourses on race and nation in Britain from 1947-1963. Orwell thinks class division would disappear after WW II and thus there would be no division in society. Waters found, however, that although the class division disappeared, a new racial divisiofn emerged. Although this new division had a negative impact on racial minorities, it did foster a unified national identity amongst nation born whites.


In The Lion and The Unicorn, Orwell describes the British characters in geographical and cultural terms. Britain is a very class-ridden country and it was very different in living condition between the ruling class and the working class. Lower class people were used to the unfair wealth distribution. However, Orwell believed that after World War II, the difference between classes in Britain should be diminished and the even condition should be made to all common people. The opposition and tension between two groups of peoples should no longer exist. He is quite positive on this aspect. However, there was a surge in the number of black immigration to Britain after World War II. Due to the innate reluctance of British public to accept foreigners’ assimilation, it led to a domestic social dislocation crisis. In Dark Strangers, Waters points out that a gradual erosion of national cohesion was being created because there was a huge cultural difference between new black immigrants and native British people. Black people lived in the quarters which were dirty and unsecured. The fears of unlicensed Black male sexuality generated anxieties for the Britain public about national safety. Even though government agencies tried hard to gain national consent among different ethnic nationals, the country would inevitably be split to majority and minority groups. His theory is rather different from Orwell’s post-war social harmonious one.


Both writers suggest that social divisions would bring potential crisis to the country. On the one hand, in The Lion and The Unicorn, Orwell mentioned “But is not England notoriously two nations, the rich and the poor?” They lived in a completely different world but in the same country. The habit and interest of the people from two classes were also different. The huge isolation made the opposition between two classes which endangered Britain to separate herself. Orwell reminded the British people that if the nation’s people differentiated themselves, they were not able to defend their country from the invasion of other countries. On the other hand, in Dark Stranger, the division of the country is between white and black people, from their living places: “The cohesiveness of the national ‘in-group,’ to step into the ‘coloured quarter’ might indeed have felt ‘strange.’ But this rhetoric owed as much to Victorian representations of the dangers of the city.” (Waters 226) Waters points out that the black immigrant was frightening the British because of its strangeness. Some women, they believed, had potential danger by insult done by